Over the last several years, a new approach to bikeshare has emerged: dockless bikeshare.
While stationless bikeshare systems, such as Call-a-bike and nextbike, have existed for years
in Europe, they relied heavily on government support, were not reliant on smartphone
technology, and never achieved the levels of growth currently underway. The rise of dockless
bikeshare, however, comes as a direct response to some of the challenges that traditional
station-based bikeshare systems have faced both in terms of convenience for users and the
need for public funding. Dockless bikeshare relies heavily, if not exclusively, on smartphone
technology and high speed internet, and operators typically charge very low fees on a per ride
basis. Supported almost entirely by venture capital funding, dockless bikeshare companies
function without government subsidies, enabling them to avoid the often lengthy government
procurement processes associated with traditional single-operator, station-based systems.
Dockless bikeshare in its current form has operated in China since 2014, but was largely
unregulated during its infancy. In April 2017, Chinese cities—inundated with millions of
dockless bikes and the challenges that came with them—began exploring options for
regulating supply, managing public space, and ensuring user safety and privacy. Soon after, in
July 2017, Seattle released the first-ever, comprehensive permit structure to manage dockless
bikeshare operations before companies dropped bikes on city streets. As other cities emulated
this preemptive regulation strategy, many realized that a delicate balance is required.
Operators need flexibility to innovate, compete, and improve their service delivery,
technology, and business models. Meanwhile, parameters that limit oversupply of bikes,
ensure bike safety, and protect users are critical. By passing municipal ordinances, designing
pilot programs, and/or using other regulatory mechanisms to oversee how dockless bikeshare
is deployed and managed citywide, more and more cities are rightly demanding dockless
operators coordinate with them prior to launching operations.
Even though the city does not provide funds to directly support dockless bikeshare, its
operation depends on the use of city-owned streets, sidewalks, and other public
infrastructure. By establishing a permit system, request for proposals (RFP), memorandum of
understanding (MOU), or similar regulatory mechanism, cities are well positioned to:
1. Integrate dockless bikeshare into existing mobility and accessibility goals and adopt policies
that compel operators to help achieve those goals in exchange for their use of public space.
2. Establish operations objectives for dockless bikeshare and adopt policies that:
i. Effectively manage public space
ii. Foster equity and accessibility
iii. Improve planning and enforcement
iv. Protect users.
3. Monitor operator compliance using data shared between each operator and
trained government staff, and enforce policies through fines or other penalties when
4. Evaluate and amend policies based on how well bikeshare contributes to city goals over
time, using operator data and user feedback.
Policy Framework for Regulating Dockless Bikeshare
It is worth noting here that dockless bikeshare and the current operating model is still new
and rapidly-evolving. This Guide will not necessarily provide all the answers, but does, in the
following sections, offer a framework for cities to experiment with regulatory approaches,
while maintaining a strong focus on maximizing public benefits.
4.2.1 INTEGRATE DOCKLESS BIKESHARE INTO CITY GOALS
Bikeshare can be a key component in achieving access, economic development, sustainability,
health, and other goals cities are already working toward. For example, the Greater Manchester
region of the UK is using dockless bikeshare to help meet existing climate-related goals by
increasing bike mode share to 10% of trips by 2025 and reducing vehicle kilometers traveled
(VKT) and single-occupancy vehicle trips. Singapore, which is aiming to increase transit
ridership to 75% of commuters by 2030, committed to investing in pedestrian and cycling
infrastructure so that more people can comfortably access transit. The city’s regulated
dockless bikeshare system offers an additional first-last-kilometer option to help meet that
goal. Bikeshare can also contribute to economic development goals, attracting both tourists
and businesses, as well as offer an affordable, sustainable transportation mode for visitors to
explore the city and a quality-of-life benefit for potential employees. Identifying how dockless
bikeshare can connect with existing goals will help cities decide which policies to prioritize,
and how best to track progress and measure success.
4.2.2 SET POLICIES TO MEET OPERATIONS OBJECTIVES
In addition to contributing to citywide goals, policies should address specific challenges related
to dockless bikeshare, including oversupply of bikes, lack of coordination between governments
and operators, uncertainty around service delivery, etc. For the purposes of this Guide, these
challenges are grouped into four operations-level objectives that cities must achieve.
1. Effectively manage public space
2. Foster equity and accessibility
3. Improve planning and enforcement
4. Protect users.
Conditions and goals undoubtedly differ from city to city, and uncertainty exists in relation to
local authorities regulating dockless bikeshare. Given these realities, a menu of policies is
suggested that achieves each objective, enabling cities to construct regulatory frameworks that
meet their specific needs. In addition, it is important to recognize that goals and objectives may
conflict with each other. For example, the operational objective to protect users through more
rigorous equipment standards may lead to more expensive bikes and user fees, making it more
challenging to meet the citywide goal of providing affordable travel options.
OBJECTIVE 1. EFFECTIVELY MANAGE PUBLIC SPACE
Dockless bikeshare operates under the assumption that public space will be available for bike
parking between uses. In some areas, public space may be less contested because of wide
sidewalks, low pedestrian flows, etc. But in areas with narrow sidewalks, high pedestrian
traffic, street trees or other planters, outdoor restaurant seating, and any number of other
uses of public space, parked bikeshare bikes compete for space. It is up to the city to allocate
public space for dockless bike parking to avoid negative outcomes such as bike piles and bikes
blocking the pedestrian right-of-way. Chinese cities have had to shoulder the enormous cost of
removing thousands of bikes because of parking and/or public space violations.
Cities have a number of policies at their disposal to ensure more clearly defined parking habits
and orderly public spaces. However, capacity and/or resource constraints may limit what a city
can require and enforce. Local authorities will also need to consider tradeoffs—designating
space for dockless bikes will likely mean less space for pedestrians (if bikes are parked on the
sidewalk) or cars (if street parking is converted to bike parking areas).
Fleet Size Cap
The number of bikes operators can have on the street is limited. Without a cap, operators
could flood cities with large quantities of bikes to capture market share. However, if the fleet
cap is set too low, the system will never achieve reliability because it will be too difficult to
find a bike. A balance needs to be struck between providing bikeshare service and
overcrowding public space with infrequently used bikes. Fleet size caps could be designed to
increase over time—for example, by a percentage each month for the first three months of
operation, as is the case in Seattle—or remain static, as in Milan, which restricts each operator
to a maximum of 3,000 bikes. Cities should also consider periodic adjustments to caps based
on performance and ridership data (i.e., trips per bike per day). See subsection 4.2.3:
Monitoring and Enforcing Policies for more.
Time-bound response to parking complaints
Operators are required to respond to complaints about mis-parked bikes within a certain time
frame, typically two hours. The city then has the authority to fine the operator or remove the
bike from the street at the operator’s expense.
Operators must include information on both proper and inappropriate parking locations on
their website and on their mobile app, which users must read through and agree to follow to
complete the registration process. Cities should also consider mandating that operators
include key information—parking rules, customer service phone number, on-board GPS
tracking alert, etc.—for users directly on their bikes.
Cities can limit dockless bikeshare operation to companies that can provide bikes that must be
locked to existing infrastructure (bike rack, sign post, etc.) for a user to end a ride. This has
been shown to substantially reduce instances of tipped-over bikes and bikes blocking rightsof-
way and other public spaces, but it requires a robust network of bike racks and other
infrastructure fit to lock bikes. Several operators including JUMP, Zagster, nextbike, and BCycle
already offer this feature, and others are developing prototypes. If a city requires lock-to, it
should work with operators to invest in additional bike parking given the significant increase in
demand for racks this requirement would yield. Origin-destination data could help identify
locations where parking is in demand. In addition, since lock-to bikes cannot be easily
relocated, cities should consider how to deal with improperly locked bikes (such as those
parked on private property, where the city may lack jurisdiction to intervene).
Dockless bike parking areas
Physical parking areas are sited and installed by the city for use by all dockless bikes. Bike
racks should be installed so that lock-to dockless bikes and personal bikes can utilize the
parking area. Parking areas may be particularly beneficial in more congested areas where
competition for sidewalk space is high. City staff will need to work with operators to ensure
that: a) the GPS technology on their bikes is accurate enough to recognize bikes parked within
the designated areas as complying, and b) parking areas are clearly defined (and users are
incentivized to use them) across all real-time service maps. Parking area costs can be offset
through operator fees. Refer to section 4.1.1 for guidance on station siting.
OBJECTIVE 2. FOSTER EQUITY AND ACCESSIBILITY
One of the strengths of dockless bikeshare is that it brings fleets of shared bikes into cities,
increasing visibility for cycling and creating immediate potential for more trips to be made by
bike. Access to transit, jobs, and other destinations could drastically improve—especially in
historically disconnected communities—if dockless bikes are consistently available. This will
only happen if cities are mindful of the barriers to using bikeshare that can be present in lowincome
communities and demand that operators meet one or more of the following accessibility
requirements. Additionally, cities should develop a comprehensive community outreach strategy
for communicating the benefits of bikeshare and encouraging cycling as a cost-effective,
sustainable transportation option.
Bike distribution requirement
An operator can only have a certain number of bikes (cap) in each zone (could be
neighborhoods, wards, etc.) or must provide a minimum service level informed by the rate of
usage in communities identified as being underserved. This could help to ensure that spatial
distribution of bikes across the city is more equitable and that bikes can be more reliably
found in less dense or less destination-heavy zones, while making sure that bikes are not
oversaturating low-demand areas.
Flexible and reduced payment options
Accessibility to dockless bikeshare can be limited by the need for a smartphone to locate and
unlock a bike and a credit card linked to a user’s account. Cities could require operators to
provide at least one alternative payment option for users to top up their account (cash at local
stores, using a prepaid card, etc.). To ensure bikeshare is affordable, San Francisco requires
dockless operators to provide a reduced-fare plan to low-income customers that waives the
initial deposit and offers unlimited trips less than 30 minutes.
Citywide accessibility rests heavily on the reach of the transit network, and bikeshare has the
opportunity to extend that reach if it is well integrated, affordable, and efficient for users.
Reduced-fare bikeshare trips that connect to transit (similar to reduced-fare transfers from
bus to metro), as well as the ability to access bikeshare and transit using a common radio
frequency identification (RFID) card could significantly expand first-last-kilometer connections.
Cities could require dockless operators to provide bikes that can be unlocked using an RFID
card (preferably the city transit card), or work with operators to develop a payment platform
that allows reduced-fare transfers between bikeshare and transit.
OBJECTIVE 3. IMPROVE PLANNING & ENFORCEMENT
Dockless bikes with onboard GPS provide more robust trip data than previously possible with
non-smart bikes. This data is particularly valuable to cities for its potential to inform a variety
of planning decisions, as well as to shed light on how and why users are riding dockless bikes
(perhaps compared to other modes). Real-time, verifiable data from dockless bikeshare
operators is also critical for monitoring and enforcing compliance with city policies.
Establish data reporting standards
Cities should require all operators to provide access to real-time data on the location of every
operational bike via a publicly accessible application program interface (API) in a standardized
format such as the General Bikeshare Feed Specification (GBFS). Anonymized trip data,
maintenance activity data, and crash data should also be shared periodically with the city
through a standardized format detailed in the permit. See section 6.5: Data Requirements and
Management for more.
User survey requirement
Cities should require operators to distribute an annual survey to their users to collect data on
the demographics of dockless bikeshare riders and how and why they use dockless bikes. This
data may help analyze progress toward city goals, such as expanding access, and where and to
what groups the city should target efforts to encourage bikeshare use.
OBJECTIVE 4. PROTECT USERS
Cities have a responsibility to protect residents and visitors riding dockless bikes on city
streets and trails. Cities should establish requirements for operators to educate users, provide
equipment that meets industry standards, and take steps to ensure additional user
Clear safety information
Dockless bikeshare operators should include safety information such as encouraging riders
to wear a helmet, inspecting the bike for damage before riding, parking in acceptable
locations, how to submit a maintenance report, etc. on their website and in-app (triggered
upon registration). Some operators use credit programs to further incentivize responsible
use. Especially pertinent information, like the operator’s contact number and the fact that
bikes are equipped with GPS tracking, should be displayed on each bike for easy
communication to users.
All bikes in an operator’s fleet should at least meet ISO 4210-2 standards for safety; however,
many experts agree that ISO standards do not adequately cover the safety of shared bicycles.
The North American Bikeshare Association (NABSA) is working to develop improved standards.
In the meantime, cities should carefully examine each operator’s fleet to ensure safety (see
section 4.5: Bikes for more). Prior to receiving permission to operate, operators should be
required to present proof of a process for users to notify the company of safety or
maintenance issues involving their bikes. As standard practice, proof of liability insurance
should also be required prior to commencing operation.
User deposit refund protections
While many operators seem to be moving away from requiring user deposits, at least in certain
markets, several still require a deposit upon registering. Cities should consider establishing a
government or escrow account to house (and protect) user deposits and requiring operators to
store user deposits in that account, so that they can be refunded, even if a company suddenly
goes out of business. Several dockless bikeshare operators in China were unable to refund
user deposits when requested or following bankruptcy filings. In response, Tianjin, Beijing,
Shenzhen and other cities established special municipal accounts to safeguard dockless
bikeshare user deposits.
4.2.3 MONITOR AND ENFORCE POLICIES
Effective monitoring and enforcement of dockless bikeshare operations requires dedicated
government staff capable of validating the data submitted by private operators and a strategy
that imposes penalties for non-compliance. A minimum suggested staffing requirement for any
jurisdiction is one full-time staff member dedicated exclusively to monitoring dockless
bikeshare. The bikeshare staff member should be able to understand and critically evaluate
data submitted by operators to ensure compliance with city policies, which would likely
include geographic information system (GIS) skills, an understanding of APIs, and how to field
verify operator data. Because this data will help to inform compliance checks, the position
should be housed within or have a direct link to the department tasked with issuing fines to
enforce dockless bikeshare policies. It is not recommended, however, that this staff member
be directly or solely responsible for issuing fines, thus avoiding the potential for bribery by
operators or other corrupt practices. Optimally, an additional staff member would be
responsible for community outreach and education to encourage the uptake of bikeshare
citywide and to help establish norms of behavior. Cities might consider establishing a staff to
bike ratio (i.e., one staff member per 1,000 bikes) that would enable scaling up staff capacity as
Compensation for dockless bikeshare monitoring staff may be funded through permit and/or
administrative fees paid by the private companies to operate on the public rights-of-way.
Channels should be put in place to reduce the ability of bikeshare staff to approve many
companies to operate to collect administrative fees. Additionally, given the potential for
conflict of interest, funding for monitoring staff should not come from non-compliance fines
imposed on companies.
To ensure policies are successfully minimizing operations-level challenges, cities should, as a
prerequisite for operation, require operators to provide real-time data that is easy to validate.
Verified operator data is critical for an accurate analysis of system performance and for
carrying out effective enforcement. Performance analysis will quantify the impact the policies
are having in relation to each operations objective, and help track progress toward city goals.
Based on this progress, dockless bikeshare policies can be adjusted—for example, reevaluating
fleet maximums—to ensure that goals and operations objectives continue to be
met, even as technologies, business models, and/or other changes arise (for more detail, see
subsection 4.2.4 below). Consistent, reliable data submitted by operators in a standardized
format enables the city to be flexible and responsive to how these changes affect the
bikeshare operating environment and to rework policies to stay on track to meet city goals.
A policy enforcement strategy should be implemented from the outset to establish norms that
maximize policy compliance and minimize the need for future enforcement. A successful strategy
will require: 1) reliable, real-time and historical data from operators and 2) government staff
capable of interpreting that data and assessing penalties when appropriate. It is recommended
that cities enforce policies through fines or other penalties levied on operators for noncompliance.
As necessary, these fines may be passed on to users to establish user norms in
addition to operator norms. Revenue generated from fines could be directed to bicycle and
pedestrian infrastructure projects, but should not be used to compensate city bikeshare staff,
thereby avoiding any appearance of conflict of interest. Specific enforcement approaches are
discussed in subsection 6.4.2: Permit Enforcement Mechanisms.
4.2.4 EVALUATE AND ADJUST POLICIES OVER TIME
System performance should be periodically evaluated by the city or a third-party managed by
the city to ensure that dockless bikeshare policies are effectively meeting established goals.
Appropriate data that corresponds to progress toward each goal should be collected for this
purpose. For example, to measure equity of the system, an annual, comprehensive survey
that each operator distributes to users could help the city understand the demographics and
needs of system users. These data could then be combined with data collected by other
means, such as modal split, accessibility, and other existing indicators to develop a more
complete travel picture.
From this evaluation, policies such as fleet size caps, service area restrictions, equipment
standards, etc. can be analyzed and adjusted as needed. Periodic evaluation may also shed
light on the need for secondary or follow-up policies to bolster the effects of existing
policies, such as adding physically marked dockless bike parking areas if operators are
falling short on public space management requirements. It is important, however, to make
this process as clear as possible to operators, which may be very sensitive to any significant
changes in policy. This longer-term evaluation process should also include a review of
technological, business model, and/or other significant changes that have emerged, and how
these might impact existing policies.
Funding for this periodic, larger-scale data collection and evaluation could come from permit
and/or administrative fees paid by the dockless operators as part of their initial application to
operate. See subsection 3.3.2: Financial Planning for Privately Funded Systems for more on
permit and administrative fees.